Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I was blessed with one of the finest mothers-in-law a man could hope for. I'll call her Dorothy. We were so much alike that I often told her I should have been her son.

Dorothy was a strong-willed woman who ran an efficient household. No back-talk was allowed on the part of her children.

When my father-in-law died, Dorothy found herself a widow at 81. Unable to live alone, she asked to live with my wife and me. Our children were grown, and there was plenty of room, so we agreed.

Knowing she had "ruled the roost" in her own home, I asked her to promise me that she would remember she was not coming to run OUR household. Well, bless Dorothy's departed soul, for 10 years she honored her promise, even though at times you could see she was biting her tongue.

Abby, I just recently retired. My wife and I have very different ways of doing things in the kitchen. When I cook, I put things away as soon as I am finished with them. My wife, on the other hand, stacks things in the kitchen sink -- waiting for me to wash them and put them away.

After scolding my wife recently about her disorganization, she stopped me in mid-sentence and asked, "Do you remember what you said to my mother before she moved in?" I nodded. She continued, "Well, you are here to share our home with me, not to run it."

My words have come back to haunt me. I must now learn to "bite my tongue," while still trying to be helpful. -- ERIC IN OCEANSIDE

DEAR ERIC: I'm printing your letter so that any other recent retiree who needs to see it can learn from it. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: For years, my husband and I had terrible fights. Then we finally came up with a system that helped us get beyond the fighting. It saved our marriage. It's very simple:

(1) Agree that listening to the other person does not mean you concur with what the other one is saying.

(2) One person talks for as long as necessary. The other partner does not interrupt, no matter how much he or she may disagree or itch to get his or her point in. Instead, jot down a key word to remember what was said.

(3) When the speaker is finished, the other person may do the same thing.

My husband and I discovered that when we listened to each other without interrupting, we heard each other far more completely and understood the other's point of view.

Please share this with your readers if you think it will be helpful. -- LISTENING WITH BOTH EARS

DEAR LISTENING: I'm pleased to share your method for diffusing arguments. Another effective technique is for the listener to repeat back what he or she has just heard in order to be sure it's the message the speaker meant to convey. Misunderstandings often occur because the parties reach and form their judgments before understanding the other person's viewpoint.

P.S. I have a hunch this column will wind up on many refrigerators!

Abby shares her favorite recipes in a two-booklet set. To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $7.90 per set ($9 per set in Canada) to: Dear Abby Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600